A University of Illinois economist doesn't see a bottom yet in the latest economic slowdown.
The monthly U of I Flash Index authored by Fred Giertz fell for a seventh straight month in March. It now stands at 95.6 - with any number below 100 showing economic contraction. It's been five months since the index showed growth in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index takes the state's economic pulse by examining state tax receipts for the previous month. Giertz expects further declines ahead for the index. It still hasn't reached the level seem in the last two slowdowns, in 1990 and 2001 - and Giertz believes this latest recession is deeper.
Voters in Champaign County will have the future of education funding in their hands when they hit the polls next Tuesday. At issue is a referendum to raise the county sales tax by a penny per dollar. The money would fund school building projects, pare down debt and potentially lower property taxes. As AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, after one failed attempt, the referendum's supporters are taking nothing for granted.
Economic development was a key plank in Laurel Prussing's platform when she first ran for mayor of Urbana. Prussing narrowly defeated Tod Sattherthwaite with the argument that the incumbent hadn't done enough to attract business to the city. Now Prussing faces three challengers who each say they could do a better job, in spite of a recession. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has laid out his budget plan to get the state's finances on track. But lawmakers have yet to get on board.
During his budget address Wednesday, Quinn cautioned the General Assembly that the state won't be able to cut its way out of the financial crisis. He called such thinking mean spirited and says it would lead to layoffs as well as to children and the elderly losing access to health care, saying he believes people would not support a "doomsday budget."
Governor Quinn says an historic budget deficit forced him to propose hikes in the income tax, vehicle registrations, cigarette purchases and call for employee furloughs and major changes in government pensions. But Palatine Republican Senator Matt Murphy says he doesn't buy Quinn's claims about further spending cuts.
"They're not easy and I'm not here to say it is," said Murphy. "But you can either raise taxes that will put more people out of work or you can balance the budget like everyone is having to do at home."
Lawmakers will debate the budget plan.... and likely make changes to it... over the next couple of months.
Illinois has recently seen a surge of wine production. But is it on par with legendary wine regions elsewhere? AM 580 intern Whitney Wyckoff traveled to Vermilion County, where a part of the prairie has become a vineyard.
Many people in the Champaign-Urbana area had a soft spot for Pages for All Ages, a bookstore that welcomed local readers for more than 20 years to its single store, first in Champaign, then in Savoy. Pages abruptly closed its doors for good this week, citing the economy. It's not been an easy go for independent book retailers over the last few years, especially as Amazon and other Internet outlets joined Borders and Barnes and Noble as major competitors. The director of the American Booksellers Association, Avin Mark Donmitz, says Pages fell by the wayside as the group's other members are preparing for a difficult immediate future. He spoke to AM 580's Tom Rogers.
If you're a Champaign County resident who fears rising tax bills during a shaky economy, the resuults from the general elections are good -- all four tax hike questions on the ballot were defeated. Townships, school districts and the county forest preserve district sought the tax increases. But in every case, the answer from voters was no. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Frustration with state government over education funding reform has led to the call for a higher sales tax in Champaign County. The county's 14 school boards promise local property tax relief if voters approve a one-percent hike in the county's sales tax. As AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, it's generated some uneasiness - even among some people who say schools need more money.
Rural America has seen an exodus of residents and businesses for decades. But now it's evolving into a garden spot for entrepreneurs. Many don't have much of a choice - jobs in large companies or farms are drying up, and self-employment helps pay the bills. Still others (like Becky and Freddy Smith, left) get into business for love of their communities - they're helping small-town storefronts spring back to life. What can government do to help them out? AM 580's Tom Rogers reports on the challenges these rural entrepreneurs face, and what the presidential candidates want to do about it.
AM 580 is joining with public radio stations across the country to look into how the Presidential race impacts rural residents.
The debate over alternate energy sources like wind and solar power is not only aimed at reducing dependence on natural resources like coal and natural gas. Driving cars and using other machines rely more on these sources. While John McCain stresses greater production of oil, and nuclear energy, Barack Obama speaks more of using alternates. One getting a lot of attention in recent years is ethanol. But lately, supply and demand have hurt the development of new facilities that produce it. AM 580's Jeff Bossert looks at how the state of the industry is affecting two rural Central Illinois towns and what the presidential candidates' energy policies could mean for their future.